When craft brewers are looking for that extra oomph, either in terms of flavor or marketing buzz, they often turn to barrel-aging. If you’re getting into barrel-aging, definitely check out some advice from Side Project’s Cory King, Green Flash’s Chuck Silva or Saint Arnold’s Brock Wagner. If you’ve been barrel-aging for awhile, make sure you have the right insurance coverage. And if you’re in need of some casks for aging … well, you might be out of luck or paying a premium.
While breweries have been barrel-aging more, distilleries have had to bump up production to meet demand the last few years, which has in turn stretched cooperages to their production limit. This has limited supply and driven up prices — not a great combo for small and microbreweries looking to make a barrel-aging splash.
According to Real Ale Brewing Co.’s head brewer Erik Ogershok, the barrel shortage has significantly impacted the craft brewery, setting back expansion efforts and delaying the release of new products to the market. Over the last five years, Real Ale’s barrel program has steadily grown from four barrels to 150, currently producing close to 20 beers (not including four new ones). However, continued growth will be largely dependent on the availability of wooden barrels. Once abundant and inexpensive, they’re now increasingly difficult to obtain. Plus, when it comes to barrels, quality matters. The integrity of the barrel itself is just as important as the barrel’s former contents. “I have to know where my barrels are coming from,” says Ogershok. “The goal of our program is to make a beer that we’re proud of and in the way that we intend, not just to make something. Our goal is to make unique beer with character.”
Are you having any problems acquiring barrels these days? Do you have any advice for how to handle this situation? Please share in our comments section below.